If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.


Bug (1975)

JANUARY 11, 2021


Sometimes it's legitimate ignorance/confusion, but one type of joke I often can't stand is when there are two movies with the same name and when you say you are watching or enjoying one, someone will make a crack about the other (one basic example: you say you're enjoying Jack Palance in Alone in the Dark and someone will ask if he's in a scene with Tara Reid, who starred in the other, awful one). The reason for this is that I am already annoyed I have to clarify which one I mean, because so many producers are too lazy to come up with a title that hasn't already been used, so when I take the time to specify and STILL get a hacky joke reply, it's just twisting the knife. I bring it up because when I said I was watching Bug, I specified that it wasn't William Friedkin's while simultaneously thinking that the two films couldn't be less alike - only to discover they actually DID have a number of similarities by the end.

I mean, if you haven't seen Friedkin's 2006 thriller, the quickest way to sum it up would be "Two people gradually go insane while barricading themselves in a room", whereas *this* Bug is, in general, a typical 1970s nature gone amok movie about a breed of cockroach type bugs that begin decimating the populace of a small southwestern town. And given that it was produced by William Castle and directed by Jeannot Szwarc - whose work here helped him get the Jaws 2 gig - it's reasonable to expect the same kind of schlocky thrills you also got from the likes of Frogs and Giant Spider Invasion, right? Well, for about 45-50 minutes that's indeed what you get, and then... well, it turns into a movie about a guy going insane while barricading himself in a room. Hell, I can go further with a SPOILER and note that the protagonists also burn to death, which means that Friedkin's Bug, while obviously not a remake, shares more surface similarities with this one than some legitimate remakes did with their originals (Prom Night and the most recent Black Christmas come to mind). It might actually be an interesting double feature, especially on a crowd of people who had never seen either and only knew that they were in no way related despite having the same title.

Until it pivots, it's certainly a fun killer bug movie, if a bit TV movie-esque (no surprise; Szwarc came from TV and, after Jaws 2 and a couple other features, returned there and hasn't come back). An earthquake sets the little things loose in the opening scene, so you get the Star Trek sort of "shake the camera and have all the actors tip themselves to the side" goofiness that's always enjoyable and also more visually exciting than the usual man-made explantion you get in this kind of film (i.e. the pesticides in Kingdom of the Spiders). It's like a bonus mini-disaster movie! From there we get a few isolated attacks, including one in, believe it or not, the Brady Bunch kitchen! Seems that this film was going into production right around the time that show had gotten canceled, so to save money they just slightly redressed their set and shot the scene there. Since the victim is a Mrs Brady-esque lovely lady, it almost feels like a strange, Adult Swim kind of sketch to see someone in that iconic room being killed in the most ridiculous way possible.

See, these bugs don't bite people to death or whatever. Instead they... well, they basically fart fire. Our hero scientist James (Bradford Dillman) gives it a more scientific explanation of course, but "they fart fire" is how it looks, and it's this little superpower that causes all the deaths. In the Brady kitchen, one of them gets in the poor woman's hair and starts a fire, one she doesn't even notice at first while she is puzzling over her recipe. In another scene they cause a truck to burn up, and since they are also attracted to fire and eat ashes, this is the most pyro-driven killer insect movie I think I've ever seen. There are like four different scenes of Dillman lighting a newspaper or something on fire and sticking it near them in order to lure them somewhere, which at the time was kind of obnoxious but when it was over I actually appreciated the repetition, as it was lulling me into thinking this was gonna be the usual deal and the climax would involve them finding the nest or something and blowing them all up.

Nope! You see, that lady in the kitchen was Dillman's wife, and after her death he becomes obsessed with the bugs and studying them in order to find a way to eradicate them permanently. And this is where the movie pivots into nuttier fare, with the non-Dillman cast more or less disappearing as we focus almost exclusively on him in his house for the final thirty minutes. But it's not like, him facing off against the bugs as a last man standing thing; instead it enters into Phase IV territory (the bug footage was actually shot by the same guy, incidentally) as the roaches start communicating with Dillman by forming words out of their bodies. It's like the writers had gotten 60 pages into their standard nature gone amok script, went to see Phase IV during a break, and got inspired to change course but never bothered to thread their new ideas into what they had already written.

But I liked that! One thing I love about 1970s genre fare that was never as prevalent in other decades is that they were often pretty grim, killing off heroes and/or ending on a note that suggested the evil thing was just getting stronger (even Kingdom of the Spiders, a pretty goofy movie throughout, ends on a major downer), but the TV movie aesthetics had me thinking this would not go that route. Plus, even though Rosemary's Baby had already come and gone (well, not GONE but you get it), William Castle's name still suggested whimsy and fun, an element that is entirely absent from the film's back half. Hell if anything the end was dark even by the standards of this sub-genre, since the insects are seemingly specifically driving this guy crazy after murdering his wife, AND they evolve into something bigger/stronger for good measure. Hahaha, GRIM. I love it!

The disc has but one bonus feature of note: a commentary by Troy Howarth that is a little more defensive than I'm used to for him. He tends to be one of the more engaging historians they get for these things, but here he seems to be particularly annoyed that Dillman never got as much respect as an actor as he believes the man deserves. I don't disagree, necessarily, but it starts to overwhelm the track at times, at the expense of learning more about the other players involved. The movie is almost over before he even really starts to give a little background on Szwarc, for example, but by then we've heard him defend Dillman's presence five or six times. Calm down, man!

I tried to focus on the track, but I did zone out a few times, so maybe Howarth mentioned this himself, but I think it's amusing that this movie - released two weeks before Jaws - starred the guy who'd star in one of its most famous knockoffs (Piranha) and was directed by the guy who'd direct the actual Jaws sequel, both films released a few weeks apart just three years later. After Jaws came along there was definitely a shift in these sort of things, some holding on to the darker elements of the earlier movies while attempting to make things more commercial, so I think it's funny that the director and star of what had to be the last one released (perhaps even made) prior to Jaws changing the game forever went on to make films that literally owed their entire existence to it.

Long story short: I'm gonna program a film marathon of Phase IV, Bug (1975), Jaws, Jaws 2, Piranha, and Bug (2006) someday, hope you can make it.

What say you?


The Craft: Legacy (2020)

JANUARY 5, 2021


When I revisited The Craft a few weeks ago I noted that it was kind of the "2nd best" option for a lot of things (i.e. 2nd best Neve Campbell/Skeet Ulrich genre movie, 2nd scariest Fairuza Balk movie, etc), and now we can add another to the list: it's the 2nd best Craft movie. Blumhouse's The Craft: Legacy (yes, that's the very stupid on-screen title) isn't exactly a home run, but if I had a teen daughter of my own, it would be the one I rather she watched with her friends at a sleepover or whatever. Not only does it lack the F-bomb that gave the first one an R rating, keeping her ears pure (surely this theoretical daughter would NEVER have heard her father use such terrible language, no sir!) allowing it to stay in PG-13 territory, but after a similar first half it pivots into something that carries a stronger message to impart on the impressionable young women watching.

And that is the fact that this time, the girls stick together. There's a little split at the end of act two, but it unfolds in the opposite way of the original - this time, the good girl heroine Lily (Cailee Spaeny) starts losing control of her powers and the other three bind her AND themselves from using magic anymore, seeing that they're going down a path of using the powers for less wholesome things and betraying the witch's code or whatever. Basically, they stop themselves from ending up like the girls in the original! But when Lily needs help, the trio quickly rush to help, their bond strong enough to overcome the villain and end the movie on a "friends stick together!" note instead of "now everyone hates each other and the heroine seemingly hasn't learned anything" one of the original.

Plus the villain is a man, so that'll go down well with the target audience (spoilers ahead, though I mean, no one should be surprised by any of this). This film is a Blumhouse production (a rare partnership with Sony; nice to know they can access IPs beyond Universal) and seemingly came from the same "All Men Are Bastards!" development execs that gave us the Black Christmas remake, as once again the film is allotted exactly one (1) male who seems to be a good guy while the others are all shitheads. And they even rope in another aging heartthrob as their leader; Black Christmas gave us Cary "Westley" Elwes and here we have David Duchovny, as Lily's stepdad that is the head of a Pagan cult seeking to usurp Lily of her power. Duchovny is clearly enjoying himself in a rare villain role, and as such it's a shame they make some very lazy attempts to hide his true nature for a while instead of letting him cut loose throughout. As soon as he, Adam, introduces his sons* Jacob, Isaiah, and Abe (aka Abraham) we know he's into some religious nonsense, and then we learn he writes books on the power of masculinity, so we also know he sucks. But it's like another hour before we find out he's also a warlock. LEAD with that, then you have something!

But alas, like the original, the horror elements are pretty light, though without that R rating (or an unhinged member of the coven; no one is taking up Fairuza's mantle here) it never feels "lacking", either. It does a better job of coming off as a coming of age/life lesson kinda thing with some light genre elements sprinkled in to give it some kick, kind of like how so many '80s comedies had a random action sequence for the climax, and I never really minded that the film was a bit of a stretch to refer as "horror". I DO wish they had given the other girls a bit more dimension, however - if you thought the first one neglected to really flesh out the trio of new pals, you'll be even more disappointed here, as we know next to nothing about any of them by the end of it. One of them is transgender, one of them is Black, and the other one is... fun? I guess? The performers are fine and share a great chemistry (a big step up from the original in that department, where it seems their witch stuff was their only link) but I don't think any of them are even afforded scenes of their own; they are joined at the hip throughout.

That said, I kind of appreciated the "not a big deal" approach with regards to the transgender character (played by Zoey Luna, an actual transgender actress, thankfully). Rather than turn it into a *thing* that might alienate the very people who could use the exposure, writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones just has them say so in a rather amusing way (she notes that she can't give birth but that "trans girls have their own magic!") and doesn't really address it much again. Even Lily, identified as a bit of a sheltered type who never really had any friends except her mom, doesn't even react to it - Luna may as well have just been telling her that she likes coffee. Some might say this is a way of ignoring it or a missed opportunity to educate, but from my (white man, yes, I know) perspective it's a good way to depict the way it SHOULD be, i.e. no big deal. If it became a major subplot, not only would there be potential "getting it wrong" kind of moments, but it'd also give transphobic jackasses some ammo for their poorly thought out missives, claiming the movie was "pushing a lifestyle" on impressionable viewers or whatever. Instead it's just there, and no one cares any more than they do about us cisgendered types. It's kind of beautiful in its low-key way.

I also very much enjoyed how they used the Skeet Ulrich replacement character of Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine). Whereas the douchey jock became a sort of lovesick lapdog in the first one, Timmy is basically turned "woke" by their spell, and what's initially played as comic relief eventually evolves into giving the film one of its most emotionally charged beats. At first he earns a few chuckles by suddenly becoming a staunch ally of women (introduced as a loudmouth bully, he now complains about another guy being disrespectful to a female student, and extols the virtues of Princess Nokia), but as he gets closer to the girls and plays sleepover games with them, he ultimately admits that he is bisexual and how he has to hide it because neither sex will see him as anything but "a gay guy". It's a fairly heartbreaking scene, and it's a shame that the film's plot machinations result in it being more or less left there, as (spoiler) he continues playing the "Skeet role" to the same conclusion, if you catch my meaning.

And that brings us to what holds the movie back a bit - it seems tampered with. His exit from the movie is very awkwardly handled, plus Duchovny's coven plays no part in the proceedings after they're introduced, and the various subplots with his sons (one of whom seems to not want to follow in his older brothers' footsteps) go absolutely nowhere - they just disappear from the film. The trailer has a completely different "We are the weirdos" reprise (different scene, different person giving the line), and - worst of all - shows another scene that is not only absent from the movie, but ends up spoiling a major twist in a way (SPOILERS AHEAD for those who have not seen the trailer!). In the spot, we see Lily open a book and see a picture of Nancy (Balk's character), but that doesn't appear in the film (I'm not even sure where it would occur), which tells the people they are advertising the movie to that this is a (very loose) sequel instead of a remake like I'm pretty sure it was originally pitched as. So anyone who saw the trailer knows that Balk is going to show up in some capacity, which makes the film's final scene a total non-surprise even though it is clearly designed to be one.

SPOILERS CONTINUE HERE! The reveal also doesn't really make any sense. We learn Lily is Nancy's daughter, which is how she got her powers, fine - but uh... when did Nancy have her? The film is, as the original was, set in the time it was produced, so it's been 23-24 years give or take. As a high school student she is at MOST 18 years old (she seems to be younger), so that would mean Nancy somehow got knocked up in the institution that she was in when the first film ended and where she remains now, which is just... ew. Having her be the daughter of Robin Tunney's character would make much more sense both from the logistics as well as the nature of her character, so I am curious if this was the original plan and availability got in the way, or if it was supposed to be set earlier and it got fudged in a TCM3D kind of way by a production not bothering with the hassle of making it a period piece. Either way, it doesn't really work with or without the trailer more or less giving it away.

So it's a shame it has these fumbles, because it gets more right than wrong, but is hard to recommend overall when it has so many unresolved plot points and underdeveloped characters. The deleted scenes do not help much (though it does explain who they are talking about when auras are introduced; one character has a grandmother with powers who had a minor role that got totally excised), and the featurettes are, as can be expected nowadays, fluffy nothings, so don't go looking there for any clues as to what might have changed along the way. But again, I think it's an improvement on the original simply for the more satisfying climax (not counting the stupid potential sequel setup) and a stronger bond between the girls - it's legit endearing seeing them pal around, and also seem more like actual teens for what it's worth (at 21-22 the oldest one here is about the age Fairuza - the *youngest* of the original quartet - was then). Ultimately, you'll see some backlash from fans of the original because it was this formative thing for them and this new one doesn't live up to their 20+ year history with the title, but they're forgetting that this is going to be a formative movie for young girls now. And I, the 40 year old man with no dog in the race, thinks this one's better.

Plus, Blumhouse's revival standard of black goo (from Fantasy Island and Black Christmas) that they stole from X-Files makes another appearance and this time it infects Mulder himself, which is pretty funny.

What say you?

*Another SPOILER here: the epilogue laughably avoids the question of what happens to his teenaged boys now that he is dead and Monaghan is, obviously, moving on with her life. Do they just leave them to their own devices?


Anything For Jackson (2020)

JANUARY 1, 2021


For the past nearly fifty (!) years, every possession movie made has been compared (not always fairly) to The Exorcist, so it's kind of insane to think that it took this long* for someone to get around that very tall hurdle and simply invert the premise. Anything For Jackson has the girl tied to a bed, the freaky visuals, the rituals... but the plot is completely different, which means that if Friedkin/Blatty's masterpiece crosses your mind, it'll likely be of the "Huh, I guess you CAN make something that doesn't feel like it owes a debt to it."

The title refers to a little boy who died in a car accident, whose grieving grandparents (Julian Richings and Sheila McCarthy) want him back so badly that they dabble in the dark arts and find a spell that can bring him back by injecting his soul/ghost into a child that is about to be born. Of course for that they need a pregnant woman, which they find through Richings' job as a general practitioner, and arrange to have the woman come to their house for an appointment so they can kidnap her and carry out the ritual in the days leading up to the baby's birth. Naturally, she isn't exactly on board with this idea (despite being unsure if she wanted the child in the first place), so it unfolds a bit like your standard survival thriller, with the "villains" having to ward off snooping neighbors and the like, but with the fun wrinkle that the grandparents are a. a bit clueless about what they're doing and b. have no intentions of harming her.

On point A, I want to stress it's not a dark comedy. There are some bits of humor here and there, but it's usually subtle and dry - most of what there is stems from the couple's petty grievances with each other, the kind that can only be born out of a longtime relationship. Richings and McCarthy have terrific chemistry, and while it's not much new for McCarthy (Sam Coleman from WNTW News!) to play normal people, it's a true delight to see Richings not only taking on a rare lead role, but playing a relatively normal person instead of the usual creepy weirdos he has played in genre films for the past few decades. Sure, he's a guy that kidnaps a woman and perform a satanic ritual, but he's also a kindly doctor who will point out an askew hem on his wife's dress. And, while they're going about it in a very weird way, he's not only just a grandfather who wants to play with his grandson again, but he's also doing it all for his wife's sake, knowing her grief is even more unbearable than his own. It's not every day you can describe a Julian Richings character in a horror movie as "sweet", is what I'm saying.

As for the mom, Shannon (Konstantina Mantelos), she thankfully doesn't spend too much time on escape attempts we know won't work, and ultimately more or less realizes they mean well and aren't "bad people" in the traditional sense. In fact beyond knocking her over the head so they can get her inside and up into the room that she is confined to, they don't commit any violence at all in the film. But there's still a body count, because when they perform the first part of the ritual they accidentally let in other spirits, ones that aren't as benevolent as their grandson. These ghosts take to messing with the couple's heads, giving them horrifying visions (including one that might reduce the sales of dental floss among viewers) and possessing others. I was just starting to roll my eyes at the dedication of their usual snowplowing guy who kept coming back to clean up their driveway (despite Richings telling him not to, in fear he'd see something he shouldn't) when the plotline wrapped itself up in fantastically gruesome fashion.

There's also a bit of humor to be found in the performance of Josh Cruddas as Ian, an occult expert (and resident of his mother's basement) who assists the couple on occasion. It's an interesting character, as he doesn't really care much about why they're doing what they're doing, but is curious if it'll work, so he walks this line between being annoyed at their naivety but also mild amusement about what they manage to do right. His character proves to be more interesting than you'd initially suspect, and is another thing to help illustrate the movie's overall point that you can do a possession film without invoking Regan McNeill.

And it arrives at a perfect time, as my Shudder subscription will be due for renewal soon and with disrupted income due to covid, I am forever looking for ways to tighten the belt. Since the app on Xbox One is so buggy and it's somehow STILL not available on Playstation I don't use Shudder as often as you'd expect given my "I will watch any legitimate horror movie ever made at least once" approach to life. In addition to my son's aversion to such fare, my wife works from home doing therapy via Zoom and the like, so I can't have people screaming and such in the background even during the day when he's at daycare, so I can't watch anything until he's asleep (10pm, the little shit!). By then I myself am about to pass out, so I often watch movies broken up - it took three sittings to get through this, in fact. So when you factor that along with the other, more family-necessary services that ARE easy to watch (i.e. Netflix and Hulu), it feels like a bit of a waste to keep a Shudder sub going when I only use it maybe once a month*. BUT, things like this are exclusive, and I'm super glad I watched it, so the price seems right as of this time. If you haven't subscribed yet, AND you - unlike me - have the ability to use it more than 30 half asleep minutes a day, I highly recommend jumping on board. Their library continues to expand with both the older stuff you'd be excited to have at your disposal, and new films like this that would be instantly buried and forgotten on all-purpose services.

What say you?

*Luckily for them I watched this *after* the Castle Freak remake, another exclusive (at least for now) that... well, it wasn't terrible, but it was unnecessary and poorly cast (the girl playing blind was laughably bad at it), so it certainly wouldn't inspire a renewal to keep content like it coming my way.


A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

DECEMBER 23, 2020


I forget who talked me out of watching A Christmas Horror Story back when it first hit in 2015, but whoever it was deserves a giant lump of coal... in their face! This isn't a classic on the level of Black Christmas or Inside (i.e. must-see Christmas horror films) but it's certainly worth watching and gets more right than wrong. By structuring the film like Trick 'r Treat and letting the stories drift in and out (instead of contained chunks) it avoids the erratic pacing of most anthologies, working as an traditional single film experience, as opposed to something like Creepshow where you might hit the chapter skip if you're not in the mood for this or that story.

And all the stories are engaging in their own way; even the wraparound (featuring William Shatner as a Christmas-loving DJ) not only has its own little unfolding mystery (a tragedy at the local mall) but ends up tying into one of the tales in a surprising and kind of awesome way. Careful viewers might be able to spot which one (an actor appears in both, though in one he is not seen in closeup and is partially obscured) and then in turn figure it out, but if you're just soaking it in instead of trying to get ahead of it I'm sure it'll get past the average viewer. One problem I have with a lot of anthologies is that there's no real connection between the tales, and has a wraparound of almost no importance - this one uses the whole buffalo, and is all the better for it.

The stories are also well balanced in terms of sub-genre (though all have something supernatural) and characters: there's a standard group of horror movie teens in one, a dysfunctional family unit in another, a married couple with a mute kid in a third, and... Santa Claus? Yep, the big man himself features in one story, in which the poor sod has to battle his elves, who have turned into foul mouthed zombies. For some reason I had the idea that the movie was a comedic one in the vein of junk like Santa's Slay, but in reality the only real "comedy" in the movie stems from hearing elves swearing as they try to eat Santa Claus and his wife. It might not even register as funny to some people; I just revert into an 8 year old whenever I hear profanity coming from unlikely places (one of them accuses Mrs. Claus of f-ing the reindeer, which is also amusing to my warped mind).

The rest is played pretty straight, and gets surprisingly dark at times; I was not expecting to think about Tales From The Hood's "Boys Do Get Bruised" segment when I sat down to watch this film. The weakest storyline is probably the one with the teens, because it inches into found footage territory as they not only film it (it's not all POV, just a few shots) but they're also - sigh - walking around a closed up building and dealing with a ghost, which is something I am happy to never see again as long as I live. On the other hand, it actually went AGAINST a tired cliche by having a dude rebuke a girl's advances because he has a girlfriend (and the two girls are friends as well). To be fair it's the "ongoing affair that gets uncovered while they're running from a maniac" cliche that I really hate, but still! It's nice to know some of these people have standards! Also the sex is important to the plot, if you can believe it or not (the girl - possessed for the record - needs a "donor").

Also, it's set in the same town as Ginger Snaps (Bailey Downs, for the record), which is the sort of tip of the hat I always like. It doesn't mean anything to the plot; it's just a fun in-joke for those who will get it and won't distract anyone who is unaware. It's part of why I dislike the "name all the characters after directors" kind of thing - it ends up being a distraction, A. because some of those names are unusual (something like "Mayor Cronenberg!" is going to cause an eyebrow cock whether you know who David is or not) and B. you're likely to recognize some (Craven, Carpenter, Romero) and then feel left out when there's one that you don't recognize, or - if you're a bit of a snob - scoff when they throw in one that doesn't deserve to be on the same level with the others. It's best to just let the people who will get it smile, while everyone else is unaware that there was ever a joke at all.

And yes, it makes good use of the Christmas theme. The kids one not so much, but obviously the Santa story is loaded with it, the family unit is visiting an aunt for the holiday when they awaken Krampus, and the other family sneaks onto private property to get a Christmas tree and bring back something else. I noticed a few other modern Christmas ones don't really have much seasonal relevance (the newest Black Christmas goes the total opposite direction of the 2006 one, with a bare minimum of decor and a fairly crowded campus for what is supposed to be break), so it was nice to see them making the effort in that department. Moreso, it's presented with a noticeable and appreciated lack of much cynicism; even the mall element isn't stacked with anti-commercialism sentiment or whatever. Despite this year's unending stream of misery, the season still flew by for me, so I would have been bummed out if, on Christmas Eve Eve, I watched something that was seemingly made by people who hate the idea. I nearly cried yesterday when I turned the tree on, knowing it was already going to be one of the last times I did so for another year (I watched the movie on the 23rd but am writing the review on the 29th, just to clarify). Hell, today is the day my mom would traditionally take the tree down when I was a kid, and I'm feeling I just put it up!

Needless to say this will be added to the rotation. I'm slightly curious if I would be as warm to it if it was presented in the usual "chapter" structure (with Shatner presumably introducing each tale properly), and would be open to watching it that way if someone did a fan edit or something, but I suspect I'd prefer it as is. The ways the stories connect (the teen girl in the Krampus story is friends with the teens in the ghost one, who were tracking a case investigated by the man in the Christmas tree story, and so on) felt a little more natural than other anthologies that have attempted similar things, and as a result you can't really just remove one story which is often what most of these things could really use. It made it more of an "ensemble" movie as opposed to a traditional anthology one; the Love, Actually of horror?

What say you?


Hunter Hunter (2020)

DECEMBER 18, 2020


When you think of Devon Sawa and horror, you'll probably think of Final Destination or Idle Hands (if you're into deep cuts you can go with Devil's Den), i.e. fun genre movies, right? Well, don't walk into Hunter Hunter expecting anything like those - this is one of the bleakest films I've seen this year, and no I'm not forgetting things like The Lodge and The Dark and the Wicked. There are a few quick moments of levity involving some city morons who keep leaving trash around in bear country, but otherwise it starts off moody and ends on a more or less devastating climax. Merry Christmas!

Sawa stars as Joe, a fur trapper who lives way off the grid with his wife Anne (Camille Sullivan) and daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell), the latter of whom is starting to learn the family trade while mom deals with things like collecting water and bringing in their fur to town for trade. They don't seem to be the happiest people on the planet, and business is getting slow both from a surplus of some sort (Anne is getting less than she used to for their furs) and also a wolf that is wiping out the game. Having tired of it, Joe decides to go trap and kill the wolf for however long it takes, leaving the two women alone and without an easy way to contact him (just some finnicky walkie talkies - it's set sometime in the '90s). One night they hear someone crying in pain and assume it's Joe, but it's another man (Nick Stahl) who got caught in a trap.

Being that this is a genre film - and that Joe has found some bodies in the woods - it isn't really a spoiler to say that Stahl's character is dangerous, though due to his injury he has to play the part of normal unlucky guy until he is well enough to strike. So the movie generates its suspense from the "not if but when" he will reveal his true nature to Anne and Renee, and also Joe's continued absence - will he come back in time to rescue them? Has he already been killed by Stahl's character, or even one of his own traps? As a result I'm not sure if this will be a particularly rewatchable movie, since you'll already know those answers and - again - it's not exactly a big crowd-pleasing type, but I admire writer/director Shawn Linden for avoiding conventions at pretty much every turn. No matter how many movies you've seen and how accurate your guesses may be on who survives the film, I guarantee you that there's a sequence no one can see coming.

(And I say this with some irony, because I saw it at the drive-in where the murky screen was obscuring some of the action - those of you watching at home with proper calibration will be even more stunned, I suspect.)

I also appreciate that Linden didn't beat us over the head with the theme here (one that will require a bit of spoilage to discuss, if you want to skip this paragraph). The film's title is more overt than anything in the film - Stahl's character is also a hunter, but his "game" is other people, and they are offed as unceremoniously and randomly as the deer and rabbits are by Joe and his family. They kill things that weren't bothering them because that's just what they do - and then find themselves as the equally unlucky prey of another human. They didn't do anything to deserve their fate, but neither do all those fluffy bunnies, right? This is not the most unique idea anyone's ever come up with, no, but again Linden keeps it from being preachy or anything. In clumsier hands there probably would have been a monologue more or less saying what I just did, but Linden leaves it for us to parse out for ourselves.

He also leaves one character's fate up to our imagination, which is less successful. This person is caught in a trap in the woods, and when they are found they're asking their would be rescuer to tell their spouse they love them and such (prompting the standard "Tell them yourself!"), and that person does indeed go get help, but no rescue (or body retrieval) is ever shown. I just assumed I missed it because the screen was too dark, but I asked someone else who saw it on VOD and they were pretty sure there was no closure. There are only like six people in the movie, so to leave one of their fates ambiguous (and not in a climactic, "what do you think happens next?" kind of way) is a bit of a red mark against it.

The other red mark is another spoiler, but it's the kind of spoiler you have to warn people about - the dog dies. Offscreen thankfully, but still. It's such a grim movie as it is, offing the poor pooch feels like twisting the knife. Granted, it happens fairly early, almost like a warning for the bummer material to follow, but what makes it worse is that the mom (who finds it) doesn't have the heart to tell the daughter - who is clearly very lonely and wanting a more normal life - that her pal is gone. So she keeps asking to go look for him, and when she hears Stahl's pained moans she thinks it might be him at first... and we know he's dead! It's just so hard to watch!

Long story short it's a solid thriller that is a perfect fit for this horrible year of no happy endings. Obviously it won't be for everyone (I am glad I didn't take my wife, as she probably would have made us leave), but for those who can stomach the unending bleakness and occasional shots of skinned animals, you'll find it's a standout for such things, and puts Linden on the "to watch" list. It's one of those movies you will keep thinking about for a few days, and despite what I said about it not being rewatchable, I wouldn't mind checking it out again someday to at least watch the darker (meaning visually, not "dark" as in content) scenes on a screen that will allow me to know exactly what I'm looking at. And it's nice to see Stahl again, an interesting actor who has had some issues in his personal life that has left him off-screen for quite some time now. Here's hoping he's got his demons under control and can mount a proper comeback.

What say you?


The Craft (1996)

DECEMBER 17, 2020


I've had The Craft blu-ray sitting in "the pile" since it came out over a year ago, but it wasn't until I got an email the other day letting me know that my requested copy of its sequel (surnamed Legacy) was arriving soon that I had any real inclination to watch it. Like any good horror fan (and someone with a crush on Neve Campbell that started a year or two before its release and hasn't yet gone away) I watched the film a couple times when it came out on video in 1996 but don't think I've seen it since then, so in addition to wanting a refresh before diving into the followup, I was curious if it held up to my "yeah, it's OK" memory.

And it did! I recognize I'm not exactly the target audience (though on one of the bonus features they said the movie actually tested better with males than females) but I can also recognize when such films are a bit lacking even for those that can appreciate them the most. In fact it reminded me a lot of The Lost Boys, a comparison that didn't register back then (probably because I was never a big fan of that one either) but having just rewatched it a few months ago it's clear to see they both suffer from what seems like a missing beat in the story somewhere. Not as bad here as in Lost Boys, where Michael turns and what seems like the next morning Corey Haim is like "What is happening with you lately?" and prompting a split from the rest of the vamps, but it also feels like Sarah's break from the witches (Campbell as Bonnie, Rachel True as Rochelle, and leader Fairuza Balk as Nancy) doesn't have a lot of buildup. So it's one of those movies where you might not even realize you're watching the climax unless you're keeping an eye on the time remaining display, which is never a good thing.

It's also just kind of event-free, and the budget wasn't exactly tiny (15 million, which is more than most theatrical horror movies get *now*!). The film's R rating was not desired (the MPAA refused to give it the PG-13 it was designed for because they didn't want teen girls being exposed to witchcraft, lololol) but even a PG-13 film can get away with more than this offers, which is a body count of exactly one (Skeet Ulrich being knocked out a window) and a few freaky visuals in the climax. Even things that happen off-screen, like a plane crashing with Sarah's dad on it (information conveyed over the news) turn out to be tricks, so there's a strange lack of genuine threat that permeates the horror scenes, infrequent as they are.

And that'd be fine if the character development was on point, but nope, they drop the ball there too. We are given one (1) bit of information about each character's life (Nancy is white trash, Bonnie has burn scars that make her feel ugly, and Rochelle is the target of a racist mean girl played by Christine Taylor) and no followthrough on any of it. For example, Nancy's jerk stepdad has a heart attack and dies, leaving her and her mom a sizable insurance payout, seemingly making her wish of not being white trash come true, but after the girls visit their new place with fancy furniture, Balk's mom disappears from the story, so there's really no payoff for the subplot - Balk is just as crazy as she came across in her first few scenes. You could probably cut the whole insurance thing out and it wouldn't even be particularly noticeable.

Part of this vagueness is due to everything being told pretty much from Sarah's eyes, but she's also the least interesting one of the bunch and also not very developed (her dad is so fleetingly seen he makes Sid's dad in Scream seem like a primary character in comparison), so there's just not a lot to invest yourself in. Campbell and True both do nice work with what they're given (and it's very satisfying to see Rochelle take revenge on Taylor), but they're literally left on the sidelines as the film turns into a war between Sarah and Nancy. The closest thing to suspense the third act really generates is whether they will side with Nancy or break free to help Sarah, but they just disappear after a few minutes. They come back in the epilogue to show their true colors (they're jerks) but it feels like a late addition to make up for dropping them from the proceedings without a proper showdown with either Nancy or Sarah.

That said, it's an enjoyable enough time capsule-y kind of movie; looking at all the young faces (even though it's the same year as Scream, Skeet seems several years younger) and hearing the '90s alternative soundtrack. The Letters to Cleo cover of The Cars' "Dangerous Type" is still a solid jam, and having not seen it since the show premiered, I was amused to discover that Charmed wasn't content with just ripping off the movie's vibe - it even cribbed its theme song from it ("How Soon Is Now?" cover by Love Spit Love); in fact, Tunney has even said that people occasionally tell her they love the show. And it's shot in LA, a luxury no longer afforded to anyone as it became too expensive for anything but TV shows to shoot here. I also completely forgot Breckin Meyer was one of Skeet's buddies, so that was amusing.

But it also added to what I feel is the ultimate thing holding the movie back in retrospect: it's kind of the 2nd place option for a lot of things. Meyer already made one of the ultimate high school movies the year before with Clueless, so seeing him here is just a reminder of a better choice. Obviously if you want Skeet and Neve + horror, you go to Scream, and if you want to watch Robin Tunney battle the supernatural, just stick with End of Days where there are actual stakes and a more formidable villain. Hell, it's not even the scariest Fairuza Balk movie thanks to Return to Oz. Don't get me wrong, I recognize that it was a gateway horror movie for a lot of teen girls at that time (and perhaps throughout the rest of the '90s and '00s), but for me it is just as "fine" as it was in 1996. Here's hoping the sequel (which IS PG-13, something that was ironically lambasted by people who wanted it "R like the original") can dig a little deeper, somewhere, anywhere, and leave more of an impression.

What say you?


Dial Code Santa Claus (1989)

DECEMBER 15, 2020


A couple years back, one of the repertory theaters here showed Dial Code Santa Claus (aka Game Over; French: 36.15 code Père Noël), hyping it up as what sounded like a cross between Home Alone and Silent Night, Deadly Night, pitting a kid with a penchant for booby traps against a demented Santa Claus in his giant home on Christmas Eve. Obviously that is very much my thing (indeed, I went to drive-in screenings of both those films in the past week!), but for whatever reason I missed the screening, and kind of forgot all about it until it arrived at my door courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome. Perfect timing!

There isn't much more to the story than I've already suggested. The unnamed psycho is somewhat sympathetic when we meet him; he clearly has some issues but he also has a childlike appreciation of Christmas and wintertime. In his first scene he comes across a group of children having a snowball fight, and when he tries to playfully join in, they all run away because he's not one of them - it's actually kind of heartbreaking! But after a bit his true colors shine through; first he slaps a little girl who says he's not the real Santa (he's working at an outdoor plaza/mall sort of thing), and when he is rightfully fired, he decides to exact murderous revenge. Luckily for him, the boss who fired him is also the mother of a little boy who is home with his ailing grandfather, and she has arranged for a delivery of some Christmas gifts to their home. So he hitches a ride with the delivery truck, kills the driver and her house staff, and spends the night stalking the kid.

UNlucky for him, the kid is obsessed with action movies, dressing like Rambo and setting booby traps that would make "Dutch" Schaefer proud (not to mention Kevin McAllister; and yes, the director says Home Alone ripped his film off). So what should have been an easy and quick bit of revenge becomes an all night cat and mouse game, as the two go at it like some kind of demented Tom and Jerry routine. The kid's home is a literal castle, giving him plenty of places to hide, set traps, etc - not to mention explain why the killer can go long periods of time without even encountering him. There's even a giant room with a floor space bigger than most of our homes - completely hidden! He can only access it from a hidden passage in his closet or a (disabled) refrigerator in some other room off the garage.

The seemingly impossible layout of the home (aided by some not convincing model shots of the exterior) leads to one of the movie's issues - it's impossible to get a sense of the geography, which dilutes the tension whenever the two are separated. For such scenes to work you have to be able to understand the space between them, but I never could get a hang of it. The better moments are when they're actually facing off; there's a fantastic scene where the kid rigs up a grenade to a toy train that he has directed toward "Santa", only for the man to send it back - it's a terrific little setpiece. But more often than not the giant space is just an excuse to slow things down (when the kid and his grandfather go into the hidden toyroom, he just starts playing on a rockinghorse!), so there's a lot of fits and starts as opposed to a gradual ramping up of tension.

It doesn't help that "Santa" commits all his murders pretty much as soon as he arrives; the driver obviously had to go quick, but he offs the cook and housekeeper seconds later, and then (warning!) the kid's dog, so for the next hour it's just this intermittently suspenseful chase. The only real potential victim after that is Grampa, who is also written out for large chunks (he hides in a suit of armor!) instead of being in any danger, so I wish he had spread out his killing spree, and/or someone else showed up (the mother's boyfriend, for example) to give the film a little jolt maybe around the end of the second act, because it gets a bit repetitive after a while. They also leave the house for a bit (the kid can drive!) which is always a no no for me in these home invasion films. I mean, granted it came 25 years later, but if you want to watch a French film about someone being stalked inside their home on Christmas Eve, there's one that's damn near perfect, whereas this one is merely just OK.

But when it's firing on all cylinders, it's a pretty fun time. Patrick Floersheim makes for a great psycho; the use of that fake spray snow for Christmas trees to color his hair and beard white is an inspired choice, giving him a plastic-y look that adds to the creepiness. And the kid (director René Manzor's son) is also quite good; he's old enough to believably doing the things he does, but still young enough that his repeated cries of "Mommy!" and frequent teary breakdowns don't seem immature of him. I felt legit terrible for him; he was hoping to see Santa come down the chimney and believes all of the events of the movie (including his dog's death) are his fault, that the real Santa is the one chasing him to punish him for sneaking a peek. Hell, the ending almost seems to be suggesting he will end up like Billy Caldwell, before he snaps out of it, but he's still clearly traumatized.

Vinegar Syndrome's release is on 4K UHD (!), but that disc lacks any of the extras. For those you have to insert the standard blu, and honestly I'm surprised there was any room left for the film. The interview with director Manzor runs a full 90 minutes (just a few minutes shorter than the film itself), and another with the now-grown child actor is 40 minutes. Manzor's interview basically doubles as a commentary; he discusses his previous film The Passage (which starred French superstor Alain Delon, something he mentions about 900 times) and how its success both helped and hurt his ability to get this one made, the film's production, the actors, etc. It's all in French with subtitles (as is the film itself; no dub track is offered) so you have to be committed (or speak French) to get through it all, but it's a good interview all the same. The one with the kid isn't as enlightening; he naturally doesn't remember too much all that vividly and repeats himself a lot, so unless you're a die-hard fan you can probably skip it.

The rest of the features are a little more traditional in length; some behind the scenes footage (with Manzor commentary to provide context), some storyboard comparisons, the trailer, and - swoon! - a music video for the Bonnie Tyler theme song, which alas is NOT a Jim Steinman song. "Holding out for a Hero" would have worked perfectly if you ask me, but it's a specifically written song for the movie, about the kid and Christmas. And VS has offered the film in one of their deluxe slipcovers; if you follow me on Twitter you'd know I have little affinity for these things usually (I film myself recycling them just to annoy the people who buy them on eBay) but if they were all like this I'd change my tune perhaps - they're quite well done and feel like actual packaging as opposed to something disposable.

Every year on Christmas Eve I build a Lego set while watching a variety of holiday themed movies and shows, and I think this will be a good fit for the occasion. As I am obviously focused more on finding the right pieces and looking at the instructions (I'm no "Master Builder"), putting on "background" type movies is ideal, and that's what this is - there are a few scenes that demand attention, but the rest is just a lot of running back and forth or cutting to the mom saying things like "I can't get through on the phone" as she makes her way home on snowy roads. Enjoyable to be sure, but nothing I need to revisit with full attention in a year or two.

What say you?


The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

DECEMBER 11, 2020


I had a chance to see The Dark and the Wicked at the drive-in a couple months ago, but that keyword "Dark" in the title had me opt to wait until it hit Blu-ray, because I didn't want another Relic situation. So it amused me that the two films also shared a similar plot, of a woman going to take car of a sick parent and having to deal with some kind of supernatural curse that is targeting them. A double feature would be interesting, I think - the two aren't so similar that you'd be feeling like the second movie was a repeat, but it'd be interesting to see how the shared themes of feeling guilty about not taking more care of a parent in their twilight can produce very different movies.

Here, Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) are 40ish siblings who return to their parents' home to help their mother take care of their dying father, who is bedridden and seems to be on his last breaths. The mom - who is acting odd - had apparently told them not to come, which at first seems like more of a "You needn't have bothered" kind of motherly hand-waving, but it doesn't take long to realize this was actually one final attempt at parental protection, as whatever is affecting her quickly infects her adult children as well. Visions and nightmares come with increasing frequency, and as the days go by (the film takes place over a week, with "Monday", "Tuesday", etc title cards being used as a sort of countdown to let us know things will just get worse) it gets harder and harder for them to convince each other or themselves that there is something evil in the house and may claim them as it did their parents.

After the flesh and blood villains of The Strangers and The Monster, writer/director Bryan Bertino tackles something a little less tangible here - the antagonist is some kind of demon/devil, but one that is never fully explained (this isn't The Conjuring where such monsters need to be identified and then given a crappy prequel film). Too many things happen for the movie to be chalked up as a "perhaps they're just imagining things" kind of explanation - it would require at least six people to be having a shared hallucination (and not all in the same space), but there is a Shining/Session 9 type feel to the proceedings all the same, where a few key scenes could indeed be a case of someone's emotions (in this case, guilt) being manifested into traditional horror movie scares and situations.

Long story short, unless I'm missing something, this isn't an "it's up to interpretation" kind of film, but one where you're simply not going to get all of the answers. At times this is frustrating; there's a scene where Louise calls someone she had just seen the day before only for them to be confused why she was calling (as if they had NOT, in fact, been there) but there's no followup, despite the call introducing yet another mystery to the proceedings. But for the most part it works quite well as a moody/atmospheric chiller. There are a number of terrific freaky moments, including what may be the definitive "someone is chopping vegetables and gets their finger" scene in horror history (not hyperbole) and a moment that might remind you of Hereditary, but doesn't make it any less unnerving.

Also, it was interesting to watch relatively soon after The Monster (in reality a few years passed in between them but I only finally got around to Monster a couple months ago), because that film used (perhaps a few too many) flashbacks to explain the fractured relationship between its characters, but here Bertino relies on the performances and certain pauses in the lines to fill in those blanks. When Michael asks Louise if she still works at the post office, she says "Not... anymore!" in a manner that suggests she got fired for suddenly taking off to take care of her parents without much notice, and in that same conversation, a quick mention of neglecting to call Michael's daughter (her niece) for her birthday tells us that not only are they estranged from their parents, but they themselves aren't exactly close these days. What caused all this isn't explained (or important, best I can tell) but what matters is how we get the idea with a minimum of words, while claustrophobically keeping us in their present misery.

If I could wave a magic wand and fix something in the movie, it wouldn't be the unanswered questions, or an unintelligible line from the mother that the subtitles neglected to translate for me (they only use the perfectly clear end part of her line, as if whoever was doing the copy couldn't understand her either). No, it would be the digital blood that rears its (very) ugly head during just about every violent moment, taking me out of it every time. Sometimes digital blood can be done well, but there isn't much evidence to support that here, and it is a major distraction during a handful of what are otherwise very well-done moments. I know it's a low budget production and it seems like they were shooting on an actual location, so I'm sure there was some element of "we can't mess the place up or afford multiple takes" to blame for using it in the first place, but after all these years of improvements I know it can at least be done more effectively.

Speaking of doing things effectively, I must give a shoutout to Xander Berkeley (and his hair/makeup people) who pops up as a strange priest, because I didn't even fully recognize him. "Dude's got a Xander Berkeley thing going on," I thought to myself, but convinced it wasn't actually him because he looked so "off" while giving me serious "Kane from Poltergeist II" vibes. He's one of those actors who can always be counted on to make a memorable character even if there isn't much to work with, but this is the first time he legitimately disappeared in the role, as character actors traditionally do. Also, the girl from Monster showed up for an equally brief bit, and managed to produce a few chills in her brief appearance. It's got a relatively big cast for a Bertino film, but they tend to make their mark and exit after a few minutes - it's pretty much just Ireland and Abbott's show.

Whatever narrative (and VFX!) lapses the movie might have, it evens out - and then some - with its nearly undiluted sense of dread. Think of the tone of the best Ti West stuff (so, House of the Devil) and Ben Wheatley's Kill List and you'll have the right idea of what Bertino was going for here, and pretty much aced it. And I was indeed glad I waited for a home viewing; even though it has its share of distractions, I assume I would have missed out on most of its power at a drive-in with people wandering around in front of me, headlights, etc. Not to mention the sound; the score by Tom Schraeder and accompanying sound design did a lot of the heavy lifting here, and deserves a proper surround presentation as opposed to a tinny FM broadcast. The murky image probably would have made the digital blood look better though, natch.

What say you?


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